While it is difficult for me to feel the draw to the daily office, hourly prayers and anything to do with journaling, Benedict’s address on liturgy reaches my heart and gives life to my desires of a highly liturgical worship service. Admittedly, as he and others have pointed out, even in the freest of the organized churches, liturgy is present. Growing up in a fundamentalist congregation, and since, changing not only congregations by States, I was introduced to the idea of saying the Lord’s Prayer on Sunday morning. To me, this was a regular part of the worship service of a congregation which was dogmatically anti-programmatic. We had our call to worship, opening prayers, and the such and always, before the sermon, the Lord’s Prayer. Interesting enough, a developed liturgy surrounded the Communion service as well, with everyone knowing their places and levels of participation. Of course, we were, just as the disciples were, ‘spirit-led.’ Now, sitting in a Methodist church on Sunday mornings, I look back and with a smirk gently jab my memories of being anti-liturgical but practicing the same overarching pattern in my former spiritual home. Benedict’s book, for me, is a short epistle on not just the history of liturgy, but so too raises some interesting questions and gives valuable suggestions about performing worship for God.
I am intrigued by the notion that the praxis of Christianity should be the uniting factor for Christians, and it seems that Benedict almost calls for that as well. He notes in the introduction (p18) that ‘liturgy and worship as experienced are our “primary theology.” Our reflections upon this, then, stand as our secondary theology, which is the focus of this short work. My concern here, however, is to what extent can we let liturgy and worship so experienced by our primary theology especially when we seem to have a large problem of rampantly poor theologically teaching and application. I’m not sure the reverse is not what I would consider true, wherein the liturgy is developed through our primary reflection upon the Scriptures. If our worship comes through this liturgy, conjoined together in some mystical way, then I would recommend worshiping God in the way in which our liturgy recognizes the One True God as revealed through the Scriptures. A proper theological reflection is important in patterning ‘the communal action in the worship of God ‘ (p23), especially if we remember the story of the pattern of the Tabernacle/Temple and the ministry there given by God and then set in motion by Moses. That is perhaps his only major fault – he doesn’t mention Scripture as the source of our liturgy, or perhaps, doesn’t give it the support as the source which is due to it.
His insights, however, in developing the liturgy for the local service, more so than his appeal to the daily office, is something that I recognize as important to my development of an appreciation of liturgy. I note, briefly, his characterizations of the call-and-response patter as the move of the Spirit in focusing our minds on Christ (p25); the unity with Christians past and present, the communion of the saints, when reciting the Apostle’s creed (p27; p34) and even our Jewish forebears (p42); the use of the psalms of lament as a prelude to praise (p32-33); and the need to make our ancient liturgies our own (p51) and notes that Pentecostalism might enliven our liturgical services (p65). This is important as often times, our more liturgical services are in battle with our theological language for which is the most off-putting to visitors. Benedict goes on to note that ‘liturgical worship glories in and relishes the story of Jesus in ways that are amazingly simple and deceptively complex (p61)’ while later writing that our liturgical inheritance from the early centuries revolves around the magnificent story telling of the victory of Christ (p64). He calls for our liturgy to be the divide line of the profane and the holy, wherein we take our stand against the dominant culture (p67). I might agree, seeing that our culture calls for simplicity, for speed, and for the lack of mythical language and concepts even in our addresses to God. He calls us to have our liturgy as an anamnesis (p68-69), so that we can remember Christ with our worship, not as One who is past, but One who is ever-present which is the goal of worship.